It seems like just yesterday that NCT Dream unveiled their newest mini album. The “Neo Zone” sure has been prolific lately, with member Haechan participating in a comeback each month since March. “Punch” arrives as a repackaged title track to NCT 127’s second full-length, and expands on their abrasive hip-hop sound. In doing so, the song pairs multiple generations of SM Entertainment producers, merging the timeless composition skills of in-house talent Kenzie with the more experimental arrangements of U.S.-based Dem Jointz. The result will likely be polarizing, as many 127 tracks are. There’s a lot going on here, and some moments are more successful than others.
Right off the bat, I’m drawn to the instrumental’s fuzzy electro backbone. It’s incredibly refreshing to hear a different set of sonic elements — especially when nearly every K-pop boy group has been working from the same musical palette this year. Of course, this being 2020, “Punch” soon incorporates a generous dose of trap. It would have been stronger (and more cohesive) if it had stuck to its electronic, Tron-like aesthetic. Still, bursts of excitement pop up here and there. I love the touches of electric guitar that pepper the song’s second half, and the climax builds to a rousing, stadium-ready finale.
Unfortunately, there are also segments that just kind of fizzle out. In particular, the second verse feels like it’s going nowhere. “Punch” is more fragmented than I would’ve liked, and a robust infusion of melody would have given it an enticing through line. Instead, the guys throw around a lot of tough-guy rap (much of it whispered!) and aimless crooning. And though the chorus is fun in a silly way, its murky pre-and-post-chorus segments miss the mark by not opting for more memorable refrains. Still, most of NCT 127’s odder title tracks have a way of growing with time. I’m reasonably confident this will do the same.
IATFB says: I actually enjoyed the polarizing parts the most, which is stuff like that retro arcade-game squiggle. I just didn’t find the rest of it all that interesting or catchy. They threw a lot at the wall, which can work if things hit, but little of it stuck this time.